The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has made it pretty clear that they do not think marijuana is anything more than a deadly, abusive, socially-decrepit drug. It’s on the same schedule listing as methamphetamine, crack, and that CIA favorite, cocaine. They have no intention of admitting anything good about marijuana.
Unless it’s at the behest of Big Pharma.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, has always operated on the premise that anything is subject to approval, so long as it has the following requirements:
- It’s a Big Pharmaceutical company asking;
- Said company has undue influence inside the FDA;
- The junk in question is patentable.
If those three criteria can be met, it’s only a matter of time before the FDA gives their seal of approval and allows any chemical concoction in question onto the market. Now, it appears, the DEA has taken a hint and joined the club – because Big Pharma is pushing to get THC on the approval list for medical use.
Of course, the DEA’s requirements are slightly altered from the FDA’s, but will still work hand-in-hand:
- It’s a Big Pharmaceutical company asking and not some “protester” or “dispensary owner” or the people of some podunk state asking;
- Said company has undue influence within government;
- The junk in question is patentable and doesn’t have marijuana leaves as its logo;
- The marijuana to distill and extract the THC is purchased from the only legal source in the U.S., a monopoly operation the DEA has created in Mississippi.
If those four criteria are met, it’s apparent that the DEA will alter its view of cannabis and change how the War on (some) Drugs is conducted so that patent chemical medicines containing THC can be allowed on the market.
Paul Armentano at AlterNet spelled this out pretty well in his article If the Feds Get Their Way, Big Pharma Could Sell Pot – But Your Dime Bag Would Still Send You To Jail. Armentano is also Deputy Director of NORML.
The whole thing is about legalizing THC for use in pharmaceuticals, as they are in many parts of Europe. Four members of Big Pharma have petitioned officially to ask for this: Teva Pharmaceuticals (formerly Barr Labs), Insys Therapeutics, Cobalt Pharmaceutical, and another unnamed petitioner. The petition came through Howard Koh of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Other members of the Pharma league also stand to benefit greatly should the DEA’s changes go through (it appears they will). These would include Bionorica Worldwide, GW Pharmaceuticals (not affiliated with the former president), and Elsohly Laboratories. The latter is owned by Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly of the University of Mississsippi, the only grower of cannabis in the U.S. with the DEA’s blessing.
Having a monopoly on the only source of federally legal cannabis in the country hasn’t hurt Dr. ElSohly’s pocketbook or influence any. He’s been the co-author of many cannabis studies (most of them anti-marijuana) and owns patents on several useful things like drug tests that don’t get triggered by synthetic cannabinoids (2 of the 4 petitioners above are using synthetics). With a federally-enforced monopoly on the nation’s only legal marijuana supply, ElSohly’s farm gets say-so on which proposed studies get the cannabis they need to move forward. The pot farm ElSohly runs is owned by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which has little love for marijuana.
To date, there are three pharmaceuticals on the market worldwide that have cannabis in them:
Sativex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals, is a spray manufactured in the UK that uses a chemical compound of THC and CBD derived directly from cannabis plants. It’s used to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but cannot (yet) be legally sold on the U.S. market.
Dronabinol/Marinol, probably the most well-known of the cannabis-derived patent medicines, is made from a synthetic copy of Delta-9 THC. It’s been approved by the FDA for years and is now past its patent and available as generic. It’s used as an appetite stimulant, cure for nausea, and most often given to those undergoing AIDS or cancer treatments. Marinol is made by Solvay Pharmaceuticals (under their subsidiary Unimed) and two of the above petitioners are asking for permission to bring a generic to market in the U.S.
Dronabinol Metered Dose Inhaler (Marinol aerosol) is the same as above, but in an inhaler similar to what asthma patients use. It’s mainly for MS patients and some chronic pain sufferers. Solvay is working to get approval for this one.
Speaking of Marinol, back to Dr. ElSohly, we see that he is working with Mallinckrodt to develop a new form of Marinol that uses plant-derived THC. Boy, that monopoly really seems to be paying off.
In addition to those three medicines mentioned to currently be on the market, there are half a dozen other drugs that use synthetic versions of cannabinoids and THC, though not exact replicas. Only one has been approved for use – Nabilone/Cesamet from Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl, using a synthetic similar to THC and given to cancer patients for nausea and vomiting.
A large push is underway in the pharmaceutical industry to find new (patentable) drugs and one of the latest fields of research is cannabis-derived medicine. After the DEA’s change of heart on THC, expect to see a lot of new medicines based on cannabinoids to be seen in the news and on TV.
Author’s aside: I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see the “everything is hunky-dory in our now-perfect lives thanks to this new pill” commercials that will be aired for these new canna-drugs.